Since 24 September a daily community picket has dogged test drilling sites for the Victorian government’s controversial East-West road tunnel project. If completed, the toll road will link the existing Eastern Freeway to Melbourne’s western suburbs at a cost of some $8 billion.

At a morning picket in the inner north suburb of Collingwood, Red Flag spoke with Tony Murphy about campaigning for public transport, not roads.

What brings you here today?

For me it’s a continuation of the campaign from 36 years ago, because in 1977 I was one of the people that helped build the barricade across Alexandra Parade, and we blocked the traffic for a couple of weeks there to protest the building of the Eastern Freeway originally. At that time the then Hamer [Liberal] government promised to build the Doncaster rail, and here we are coming up to 40 years later, we’re still waiting for that rail line and we’re still waiting for 50 new trains.

Tell us about the protests in 1977.

It was mainly people living in the area who were directly affected. But there were also a number of public transport activists that weren’t from the area, and there was a group called Citizens Against Freeways. There were a few radicals from all over town, but mainly it was people living in the area who didn’t want the community disrupted.

One particular incident sticks in my mind. The workers got there, they had the cops all standing around and we had like 1000 people. One of the workers fired up the compressor and they started jack-hammering. They’d only done two or three strokes of the machine and someone called out, “Grab the hose!”

So a few people moved forward, grabbed the hose and pulled it, and it yanked the jack-hammer out of the worker’s hand, and they kept pulling and pulled it into the crowd. The cops grabbed the other end of the hose, but we had far more people so we ended up pulling the police into the crowd.

And then someone called out “Take the hats off the cops!” So then the cops only had one hand to hold the hose, the other hand they were hanging on to their hats.

Then someone called out “Cut the hose!” And somewhat luckily, someone had a pocket knife and they cut the hose. We heard later, I never actually saw it, but apparently one of the local activists had the jack-hammer at home sitting up on his mantlepiece as a trophy of the day.

I suppose really we put public transport on the map as an issue. Although obviously we didn’t win, the freeway’s there, but yeah, it was a good protest.

Do you think the result will be different this time?

Things have changed. I think that we’re in a better political position now. I think we can actually win this one because I think Napthine has probably bitten off more than he can chew.

Napthine lied; he didn’t say he was going to do this project only. So, we demand that rather than sign contracts only a few weeks before the next election – we actually get a chance for this project to be number one as an issue at the next election and hopefully if we can apply enough pressure to the Labor Party, we’ll get what we’ve been waiting for for 50 years and that is the beginning of real investment in public transport in Victoria.

Community rally to stop the East West Tunnel

11am Sunday 13 October, corner Brunswick and Westgarth Street, Fitzroy (one of the drill sites)

Text “tunnel” to 0432 447 036 (no calls) and receive updates on each day's actions.